Highland County, VA 9/24/14

All photos are Marshall Faintich

I've been "chomping at the bit" for the past couple of weeks to go to Highland County in the Allegheny Mountains to look for raptors and migrating warblers, but either the weather or schedules haven't worked out. Today seemed like a good day to go. The weather forecast for east of the Blue Ridge Mountains was 60% chance of rain, and no rain forecasted for Highland County until the evening. A tropical storm was moving north up the east coast of the U.S.

Walt Childs and I left Stoney Creek around 8:45 and arrived at Monterey, VA about two hours later. We ended the day with 30 avian species, but no warblers. The raptors, however, were the stars of the show.


First year male Northern Cardinal

As soon as we got to Monterey, we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk. We stopped a short distance north of Monterey on route 220 when we saw a Broad-winged Hawk and a juvenile Bald Eagle.


Broad-winged Hawk


Juvenile Bald Eagle

Our primary location for birding today was to the north and west of Monterey in the Blue Grass Valley. We turned north on Wimer Mountain Road (route 640) and stopped at a couple of places to view another Red-tailed Hawk and another Sharp-shinned Hawk.


Red-tailed Hawk


Sharp-shinned Hawk


Sharp-shinned Hawk


Sharp-shinned Hawk


Sharp-shinned Hawk

We took Wimer Mountain Road almost to the West Virginia border, but only saw sparrows, goldfinches, and some other woodland birds, so we headed back south and turned west on Hardscrabble Road (route 644). We stopped a short distance before Hevenser(sp.?) Road (route 643) when we spotted six large birds circling above. Two of them were Turkey Vultures, but the other four were juvenile Bald Eagles!


Juvenile Bald Eagles


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagles


Juvenile Bald Eagles


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagles


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagles

The four Bald Eagles circled higher and higher, and then headed south and out of sight. Wow! We had five Bald Eagles. But we weren't done yet. As soon as we drove past Hevenser Road, we saw a dead tree with three more juvenile Bald Eagles. And then a fourth Bald Eagle landed in the same tree, and moved to the highest perch.


Juvenile Bald Eagles


Juvenile Bald Eagles

Then a fifth Bald Eagle landed in the same tree!


Juvenile Bald Eagles

Two more Bald Eagles attempted to land in the same tree, but then moved to another tree to the east and out of our sight. But then two more Bald Eagle circled and landed in trees near the dead tree with the five Bald Eagles.


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle

We drove up the hill on Hardscrabble Road to try to get a closer look at the eagles, but couldn't see those trees from the higher location. When we turned to go back, we saw a Basic IV, sub-adult, Bald Eagle heading for the juveniles.


Basic IV, sub-adult, Bald Eagle

And then another Sharp-shinned Hawk flew by. When we got back to the location where we first saw the eagles in the tree, all but one of the eagles were gone. Perhaps the sub-adult eagle was the leader of the flock?? That made 15 Bald Eagles for the day. A few moments later, two boldy-colored Red-tailed Hawks circles over the road intersection.


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk

And it wasn't over yet! We drove south on Hevenser Road and stopped when we saw our 16th Bald Eagle of the day. It was a Basic I, sub-adult.


Basic I, sub-adult, Bald Eagle

We turned east on Laurel Fork Road (route 642) where we saw a pair of American Kestrels. We then headed south on route 640 and added three more Red-tailed Hawks on the return trip home.


American Kestrel


Red-tailed Hawk

Now that's what I call a good day for raptors!



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